In 2018, the Manchester Essex girls soccer team turned in the best season in program history with its first ever Cape Ann League championship and a trip to the Division 4 North Finals.
While the 2019 Hornets have a different look, minus 10 seniors from last year's squad, there is still plenty of talent on the field and plenty of reason to be confident in another big season.
"The team is proud of its season last year but we are very focused on moving on to this season," said head coach Luke Cosgrove, who is in his fourth season at the helm. "After losing 10 seniors and four captains, the team wants to be competitive in every game this season. We will be battle tested."
The Hornets are led by four senior captains, all returning starters with multiple seasons of varsity experience. Junior Dasa Hase was the team's leading scorer a year ago and the CAL Baker MVP, she is back at striker. Senior Maya Baker was also a potent scorer a year ago and is back in that role. Senior Mia Cromwell leads the charge at the midfield position and she is a big time facilitator. Senior Sophia Gillespie leads the Hornet's back line.
Manchester Essex figures to have lots of offensive talent this season with Isabella Hadeigh and Maddie Lawler returning on the forward line. Elizabeth Loring is also a returning offensive player and she scored the team's lone goal in a 1-0, season opening win over Marblehead on Tuesday. Ashley Flood also returns to the starting defense.
The Hornets were a very balanced squad in 2018 and hope to bring the same balance in 2019 with similar results.
The defending CAL Baker champs will have plenty of competition in the league, as usual. Once again, Amesbury looks to be the team's biggest threat at the top as the teams have gone one-two in the CAL Baker standings in three of the last four seasons. The Kinney (Large) Division also looks strong from top to bottom meaning the Hornets will be tested in every game.
"The CAL is an ever improving league," Cosgrove said. "Large schools have a lot of talent and smaller schools are well coached in order to be competitive all season long. Being the reigning Baker Division champs, teams will try that much harder to beat us this season, from both divisions."
Boys going for repeat
Like the girls, the Hornets boys were also CAL Baker champs in 2018, bringing home the league title for the third season in a row. While head coach Rob Bilsbury's squad lost a lot of key cogs from last year's championship team, he has been impressed with what he's seen early in 2019, especially from a leadership standpoint.
"That's what I've been most impressed with so far," Bilsbury said of his team's veteran leadership. "In our preseason scrimmages I've really liked our communication and it starts with our leaders."
Leading the way for Manchester Essex this fall is a quartet of senior captains.
Kellen Furse returns at center midfield with Thomas Birkeland back in the fold at wing midfielder to form a very talented duo that can contribute on both sides of the field. Finn Kiernan is back at striker and is a reliable goal scorer while Jake Edwards leads the way on the defensive side of the field.
Junior Ben Gutal will be starting in goal, he split the action in net last season and will be the full time starter this fall.
Sophomore Naderson Curtis is back at striker after a breakout freshman season in 2018, while junior Tommy Bowen will chip in at midfield and sophomore Kai Carroll has impressed on the back line.
"This team has taken action in the preseason and they're really excited to get out there for some real game action," Bilsbury said. "We have talented athletes all around the lineup and we are hoping the veterans lead the way and take it game by game."
While the Hornets are going for four straight league titles, they will have plenty of hungry competition standing in the way. Hamilton-Wenham has been right there at the top alongside Manchester Essex in recent seasons and they figure to be in the mix again this season while Ipswich, the team's opening day opponent on Wednesday, Rockport and Georgetown are always highly competitive.
"It's so tough to tell in this league," Bilsbury said. "Us and Hamilton-Wenham have been at the top the last couple seasons, but Rockport, Georgetown and Ipswich are going to come at you twice a year and give you a game. You have to execute at a high level every day in the CAL."
Manchester Essex soccer at a glance
Head Coach: Luke Cosgrove (4th season)
Last Year's Record: 15-4-2 (Lost to Amesbury in Division 4 North Finals)
Captains: Maya Baker, Sr., Mid.; Mia Cromwell, Sr., Mid; Sophia Gillespie, Sr., Def.; Dasa Hase, Jr., Striker.
Key Returning Players: Ashley Flood, Jr., Def., Isabella Hadeigh, Jr., F; Maddie Lawler, Sr., F.
Strengths: The Hornets have a highly talented and battle tested nucleus returning to the starting lineup.
Concerns: The team was hit hard by graduation and will have to replace 10 contributing seniors from last year's team.
Coach's Outlook: "We are proud of the season we had last year but very focused on moving on to make this season a new year and set new goals. We want to be competitive in every game this season and make the playoffs again from a tough and improving CAL."
Season Opener: 1-0 win over Marblehead on Tuesday.
Head Coach: Rob Bilsbury
Last Year's Record: 9-6-4 (Lost to Lynn Tech in Division 4 North First Round)
Captains: Thomas Birkeland, Sr., Mid.; Jake Edwards, Sr., Def.; Kellen Furse, Sr., Mid.; Fin Kiernan, Sr., Striker.
Key Returning Players: Tommy Bowen, Jr., Mid.; Ben Gutal, Jr., G; Kai Carroll, Soph, Def.; Naderson Curtis, Soph., Striker.
Strengths: Playing together as a unit and communicating on the field.
Concerns: The team has a lot of players stepping into new roles.
Coach's Outlook: "This team has been an exciting team to coach so far and I can't wait to see how the season plays out. They have played so well together as a unit and that comes from great senior leadership."
Season Opener: Today at Ipswich (3:45 p.m.)